What are the best things to eat straight after the gym and why? It’s a bit of a contentious topic, with every personal trainer, coach and nutritionist having their own view on what exactly you should be snacking on after your workout.
However, though you may read lots of different advice on the subject, today we’re going to get into the heart of the matter, telling you why your post-workout snack matters and how to make the most out of your nutrition, before getting into our favourite recipes.
Why post-workout snacks matter
The main thing you will want from a post-workout snack is something that will refuel your tired muscles after a hard slog at the gym, that will promote healing, and that will give you a bit of a pick-me-up.
This is important to bear in mind from the start. The idea of ‘snacking’ can get to a lot of people. We’ve been taught that snacking leads to unwanted caloric load and weight gain. We’ve also been taught what a snack looks like- sugary, processed treats that give you nothing but an insulin spike and a large calorie injection.
This is where it becomes important to recognise both the appropriate time and type for your snack. You need a bit of an energy spike post-training, especially if you have a busy day to recover for. So, with regards type, a bit of sugar is OK- good even- as long as we get time right and eat it immediately after the gym.
We’re not sticking to the traditional protein shake here, either. We want to keep our snacks healthy and useful. Protein intake needs to be high in general- no great injection is needed immediately after training. It won’t have the same kind of acute reaction as sugar. Therefore, protein shakes aren’t the most useful after the gym. They are often also filled with artificial ingredients, sweeteners and allergens, so they’re not actually that healthy, either.
So, what is healthy and useful?
The right post-workout snacks should:
- Support muscle regrowth and muscle repair.
- Replenish glycogen stores (sugar), which our muscles use up as fuel during a workout.
- Boost overall recovery.
- Combat post-workout fatigue.
- Help to balance blood sugar levels.
With this in mind, post-workout is one of the only times when we really do want faster digesting nutrients, like sugar. We want foods that are easy enough to digest, will give us a good dose of mid- to complex- carbs, whilst giving a little protein to bring up our total daily intakes.
You will want to take in your snack as soon after your workout as possible. If you can finish stretching and then sit straight down to eat, so much the better. However, anything up to 45 minutes is fine.
7 post-workout snacks
1. Almonds and banana
Almonds are an easy snack to keep in your gym bag. They offer healthy protein and fat to aid recovery. Banana will give you carbs and added potassium and magnesium, which will allay post-workout cramping.
For a winning combination, try mixing bananas, almond butter and some mixed seeds with a little honey and Greek yoghurt.
2. Coconut milk yoghurt and fruit
Again, this is a snack that gives a good mix of fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates. If you can, go with lower sugar fruits like berries. If you need an energy boost, however, go with sweeter fruits and consider a spoonful of honey.
3. Protein shakes
Yes, we said above that protein shakes aren’t always the best post-workout snack. However, we were talking about poor quality ones that contain sweeteners and fillers, that are dairy-based and often therefore inflammatory.
Here’s how to make your own, healthy, perfect protein shake that will go down really well after the gym.
Begin with a base of collagen protein and coconut or almond milk. Sprinkle in any of your favourite ingredients- some good ones to try include berries, spinach, kale, nut butter, coconut cream, flax, hemp, chia and pumpkin seeds.
4. Sliced vegetables and hummous
You get a little protein, complex carbs and a fair amount of fibre with this, meaning a good, slow burning energy top up. The fibre will also help to stabilise your blood sugar for the next few hours and will lead to better digestion.
Vegetables like celery, peppers, carrots can work perfectly.
If you have a bit of time to cook, try hummous with sweet potato fries. These will also give you plenty of complex carbs, a small amount of protein, and are packed with vitamins and nutrients, including vitamins B6, C, D, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Eating hot food will also make you feel like you’ve eaten something more substantial.
5. Oily fish
Oily fish is always a good bet. For a handy snack, try packing a tin of sardines in your gym bag and enjoy them with your favourite sauce post-workout. Alongside giving you plenty of protein, Sardines contain lots of omega-3 fats and are loaded with calcium, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese, all of which will help your muscles to recover.
6. Lean poultry, cheese and apple
Turkey or chicken will work for this one. Try spreading some soft cheese onto thinly sliced poultry with a few slices of apple. If your macros will allow it, use this as sandwich filler on some densely seeded bread for added complex carbs, healthy fat, fibre and a fair few extra calories.
7. Avocado and eggs on toast
Fried, boiled, poached or scrambled… however you like them, enjoy your eggs on a slice of seeded bread with some crushed avocado and a drizzle of chilli sauce and a sprinkling of spinach. This will give you a good mix of healthy protein, fat and carbs, whilst the spinach will give you iron and the chilli sauce will deliver a hit of capsicum.
Try anything from this list, mix and match them, or use them to create your own meals. Whatever way you decide to go, remember to keep a good mix of macronutrients, whilst emphasising replacing lost glycogen with some mid- to complex- carbs and a fair amount of fibre.